Monday, November 30, 2009

Free e Day

Promoting Independent culture sounds like the kind of thing one puts in a funding application, but it is exactly what one writer decided to do by inviting writers to offer their work for free online for one day---

So please join me in checking out all the cool stuff available just for the downloading. (OK, yes, I have one wee contribution myself but there are also real writers and whoole novels available).

There will also be live web chats that day for those of you who like talking on line.

For more information on the ideas, the works available, and the web chats, check out:

Happy reading. I look forward to hearing what you think of some of the material you download as well as what you think of the idea of independent culture, giving away what you want, and making a living out of a labour of love.

By Popular Demand

I really tried to get all these photos included in first Castlehill Craft day blog post, but my technosavvy let me down, so now by popular demand--here's Ruan with her trademark smile and busy hands crocheting a twirly scarf--something uncharacteristically for herself. She has quite a Christmas list!

And Heather trying to look like the Grinch herself but we all know better.

And one wee purse--I call it my luck penny purse because it is teeny. I was playing aorund with squares and colors and leftover bits of yarn--I am easily amused.
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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Castlehill Craft Day

One of the best things about these days where crafters come with their unfinished projects to have a little time away from distractions is you just never know what they will be bringing along.

Briefly, Liz brought a breathtaking piece of silk embroidery begun in the 1870's. It is worked with picked up stitches in pure silk thread which can't be found any longer.

Meg walked in with her basket of basketmaking goodies and turned out this baby rattle. The bell is secured inside.

Jill is queen of sock monkeys (I should have photographed her Norwegian knitting as well but we spent a fair bit of time eating and talking as well as crafting and oohing and ahhing over each other's things.)

Ooh apparently blogger could not handle all the photos I tried to publish, so I'll save them for another day. This is enough of a taster I hope to say that we found a great way to spend a rainy day in out of the weather.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

American Thanksgiving, French Restaurant

OK, a French restaurant in Wick may not look exactly like this, but it likes to give that ambience and ambience is so very French, n'est-ce pas? My husband had become aware of how much he had been annoying me and was trying to make amends, so we wound up at Bord De L'Eau, which as it happens, is aptly named since it is right at the edge of the river in Wick for lunch yesterday.

And, as it happens, it was American Thanksgiving. I was prepared to have a little tagliatelle when I happened to notice a wee post it on the menu board announcing: "turkey parcels and cranberry stuffing". Honest to goodness, my eyes misted over. Homesickness is like that. You are going along perfectly fine and then something that you probably would not have looked at twice in the land of Tom Turkey's magnificent sacrifice catches you out.

Just to ensure that I completely mixed my metaphors I celebrated the unrelated occasion of the arrival of nouveau beaujolais with a glass of the cheery red, short lived wine.

Even the weather cooperated and we were able to sit in the enclosed glass sun porch and watch the lazy sun hanging out low in the sky.
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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pilgrimage, Geometry, and the Wee Still Voice Inside

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Early this morning, I woke to the radio. The sun, nearly at its most reclusive, was still two hours from its rising so the room was dark. The first story was about the return of two Canadians held hostage for nearly two years in Somalia. What did they hold on to in all that time to keep themselves intact, I wondered? I must have dozed because the next story was a young British Muslim journalist talking about the holiest of Muslim shrines in Mecca, a black stone. You can see an image here as well as (thanks to the wonders of technology) listen to the original program.


The journalist describes himself as a "cultural navigator", which is more apparent for those of us like myself operating outside our original homes or a step out of mainstream culture--for whatever reason.

In good documentary fashion, the journalist interviews architects and spiritual guides who discuss the virtue of simplicity in helping us get to that spiritual place. On a personal note, he talks about the contrast between the simplicity of prayer and spirituality and the jangle of people and noise in the everyday world. He concludes that it is not so much the place that we need to help us be centered but something that we find/learn/cultivate within ourselves.

In my sleep-state mind, I stitched these stories together with the shipping forecast and as I fell asleep to the familiar recitation of "Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire....." this photograph came into my mind.

I recently wrote about Emily Dickinson in my newspaper column. When I first discovered her poetry I was an adolescent and full of rebellion and a fondness for half-understood transcendental concepts. Emily Dickinson became a recluse late in life rarely leaving the house and her garden. When chided about not attending church, which in her 19th century New England town was certainly a social requirement, she wrote emphatically about nature as her chapel.

I sat with a friend yesterday overlooking the bay from the window of her studio. She was worrying for me because I have for some time been lumping along like a wheel out of true. "Un-centred" she called it. She talked about ways of getting that centre back.

All those threads wove in and out of my mind as I listened to the programs this morning. I thought about the times when I have found that stillness and insight that come from profound stillness--on a labyrinth in New Harmony before my wedding day, in the middle of dance floor, singing in a familiar church, singing in a strange church, and walking.

Although my favourite is to walk in the wide open spaces here, I can also find that peacefulness in a cityscape. The black square with its stark geometry is a stunning vehicle for the necessary separation from the hum drum, but I dubbed the photo above "moss universe". Studying that wee universe with its complexity, elegance, and independence, was a pilgrimage of sorts.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nanowrimo Wrist Warmers

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My friend Meg is a wizard with fine Shetland wool and knitting needles. I saw a pair of her wrist warmers at our recent sale and loved them but I needed them a bit larger to go over my shirt or sweater, so I asked her to do some for me. I specified red and left the rest up to her. And you can see the result. (I have a couple pairs of her socks, too.)

I have dubbed them nanowrimo wrist warmers because I need all the help I can get to meet my goal of 50,000 words in a month that is nearly over. (Don't ask how many I have. More than I had in the beginning of the month, but fewer than 50,000). So I have imbued these wrist warmers with the powers of Wonder Woman's magic bracelets and the muse of nanowrimo.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats"

My friend Meg--shown above with her Shetland shawl--was going west to the little shop that sells some of her things, such as her shawl and she invited me to come along. The trip through the land out west is always a pleasure and Meg and I have not had many opportunities to talk uninhibitedly and exclusively the way you can on a road trip, so it was double delicious.

It turns out the little shop and post office is a beautiful cottage that I had once admired from the outside and had wanted to visit someday. Serendipity was working over time. And then we stepped into the shop and saw shelves full of lovely hand crafted things:

and books that are impossible or at least hard to get elsewhere.

The store is also a post office and the social centre of Skerray. One woman stopped in to give the details of a dog that had jumped all over her--and to get a biscuit for her own dog. The next visitor also came in on a dog biscuit run. He lingered and we all had a bit of good craic. Marilyn is the kind of person you find easy to talk to. The crocheted hats above (except the beret on the dummy) were made by her. I screwed up my courage and put a couple of my things in the store. Maybe they'll sell, but at least it will give me a good excuse to go back for a visit.
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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Real Writers Talking About Books:booksquawk

OK, booksquawk is not about the official, pre-packaged book club questions included kind of book reviews. These reviews are written by folks who really write and who really read giving you their own, articulate, insightful ideas about the books that they pick to read.

In Scots, this is definitely good craic.

In American, this is the full meal deal or value added.

From the time I was knee high to a grasshopper, I have been reading and writing. Although it may not be universally true that writers are readers, it has enough weight that I take my reading anbd writing both seriously. A poet-mentor-writing tutor said every week: "Writers are readers." and part of our homework was to say what we had read as well as what we had written that week. So to see several writer-readers in action, go to

If, like me, you are tired of reviews that use such words as "a good romp" or have more ellipses than words or may not even pertain to the book in hand, then this is a site for you.

If, likewise, you wonder about books beyond the latest blockbuster soon to be made into a film, then this is a site for you.

If, thirdly, you remember when book reviews actually gave you something to think about along with an assessment of the book, then by all means check out

Saturday, November 14, 2009

From a Dragon's Den: Independent Publisher Launches Today

The writing development officer for the highlands and islands has begun endorsing electronic publishing, so I think the Davids of the writing world are starting to line up with their wee sling shots at the Goliaths of the printing biz.

I just learned about a brave new publishing venture:

Dragon International Independent Arts ( They are dedicated to new writers and aspire to deliver books to readers with fewer barriers. That means they are trying to do it on their own without recourse to the big houses that take such a large slice of the pie.

They say on their web page that if big publishers are Tesco (Walmart, for US readers), then they are the farmer's market of publishing. I always have liked farmer's markets, so I am pleased to wish them Happy Birthday as they inaugurate their first books.

I bought May 1812 by MM Bennetts whose work I had the opportunity to read on Authonomy. If this author is typical of the kind of writing they include in their description of "books with character," then I am looking forward to more from them.

Happy Birthday, Dragon International Independent Arts, and many happy reviews!

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Monday, November 09, 2009

First Frost on the Moss

We have felt the chill coming. About 4pm as the sun dropped even lower in the sky the air took on a sharpness that meant winter was coming. Last night as we drove home from a friend's house, the ground mist that wrapped itself around the car cast a distinct chill over the bottom of the car.

Thus, even knowing what to expect, the stunning landscape left me as delighted as my first views of the grand unveiling of the Marshall Fields Christmas windows. It is hard to recreate that first sense of delight that only children can have. We become so quickly jaded and so many things are so easily compromised with product placements and infomercials.

The moss is a world unto itself. It is occasionally visited by tethered horses. Some folks may still dig peats there. My cats venture tentatively into the edge looking for mice and our neighbours walk their dog on a little patch of grass at the edge of the moss. Other than that, we rely on ambassadors from the moss--swans from the lochan, grouse calling to each other from the cover of the gorse, rooks on their way to and from the few trees, and an occasional glimpse of a roe deer.

She keeps herself to herself, adorning her sovereign self with the colours of the season. This morning the white mist hovered over the horizon. Morven, the snaggle tooth mountain, was tucked out of sight and the reeds and sedges and heather wore a dusting of crystal over their copper-red-green costumes.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Tricks of Air and Light

Yesterday the air was so calm in the morning that I could hear the sounds of cattle from a farm that was on the distant horizon. It was the sound of cattle being moved in. None of us were fooled by the benign sun and quiet air yesterday. Winter is coming and that means, among other things, that the cattle go indoors for the next couple months to protect the ground from the pounding that their hooves give it in the chronic dampness that is winter here.

It also means that the calves get weaned. So those sounds were the complaints at being disturbed and the "where are you" calls of the calves and their mothers. Across the broad horizon it lost its poignancy. When I first heard that at Isauld, I was upset. It was one of many adjustments and so when I heard the cattle from a distance I could remember it fondly. Time and distance often wash out the prickly bits or the sharp details of a narrative.

I knew that today would be blustery and wettish and it has not disappointed. For up todate weather information, go to this link. I'm now on the Keiss side of the county, so click on that link to know more than anyone except a seaman or farmer needs to know about the weather at any given time--or just to watch the cool dials and graphs: